Puerto Rico is an unincorporated territory. This means that Puerto Rico belongs to the United States but is not exactly part of the United States. It is possible for an unincorporated territory to become a state. It is also possible that an unincorporated territory could become an independent nation. And it is also possible, legally, for an unincorporated territory to remain an unincorporated territory forever.
Does Puerto Rico have to be incorporated for statehood?
The short answer is no. California, for example, became a state without ever becoming a territory. Some people feel that California was a de facto territory when Mexico ceded California to the United States in 1848. However, it was never formally incorporated as a territory. California’s population went from about 7,000 people to the required 60,000 in just about a year during the Gold Rush, and California was admitted as a state in 1850.
There is no law and no part of the U.S. Constitution that requires a territory to be incorporated before it can become a state.
Would incorporation be good for Puerto Rico?
It could be good for Puerto Rico to be incorporated. Incorporated territories are understood to be on their way to statehood.
Some have argued that admitting Puerto Rico as an incorporated territory — or agreeing that Puerto Rico is a de facto incorporated territory — would make the path to statehood more clear than it is now.
However, that would add another step to the process. As it stands, there is a statehood bill, HR 4901, already in Congress with 59 cosponsors, both Democratic and Republican. All that is required to make Puerto Rico a state is a majority “yes” vote on this bill.
What about the incorporated territories?
The United States currently has no incorporated territories, except for Palmyra Atoll, an uninhabited, unorganized, incorporated territory.
The incorporated territories which were inhabited and organized have all become states.
It is time for Puerto Rico to become a state, too. Tell your legislators that you want statehood for Puerto Rico.